The blind and electric drive cars: Death by silent hybrid committee

There has been quite a hub-bub about the dangers of hybrids because they are more quiet than internal combustion motivated vehicles. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) naturally takes these matters quite seriously and in the Spring of 2007 approached SAE International about the problem. Minds can now be put to rest because, according to a press release issued by the SAE, decisive action has been taken.

Immediately following the request, the SAE International Motor Vehicle Council asked the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Technical Committee to look into the problem. It was quickly discerned that they lacked the necessary skill sets to offer an expedient solution so they expeditiously passed it to the SAE Safety & Human Factors Committee. They promptly decided to form the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) subcommittee. The VSP speedily created three different "Task Forces" to further aid in determining the technical issues of who the benefit should target, which sounds would achieve the most desired and least desired effects and "what combination of vehicle conditions, vehicle status, and ambient conditions are required." The Task Forces will be meeting independently and reporting back to the VSP subcommittee on a monthly basis. We can be rest assured that the VSP subcommittee plans to issue a technical report or recommended practice by the end of 2008. You can read the press release after the jump for all the exciting details.

If the speed of the effort being put forth by the SAE isn't reassuring enough you will be happy to hear that various governments are also getting involved. the state of Maryland has already announced it is taking action and just today, Representatives Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-NY) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) introduced a bill called "The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008" which requires the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study on how to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by vehicles using hybrid, electric, and other silent engine technologies.

While we wait for the outcome of the various studies, recommendations and legislation we suggest people take care around pedestrian traffic, sighted or otherwise.

Press Release"

SAE Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) Subcommittee

April 9, 2008 9:43 AM EDT


In the spring of 2007, SAE International was approached by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) regarding a concern about visually-impaired pedestrians involved in traffic incidents with hybrid vehicles. The concern focused on the quiet operation of hybrid vehicles at low speeds.

Based on the NFB's request, SAE International Motor Vehicle Council asked the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Technical Committee to study this concern. The HEV technical committee concluded that this concern did merit more study, but recognized that it required different expertise than the members of that committee could provide.

The responsibility for this issue was then transferred to the SAE Safety & Human Factors Committee, which formed the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) subcommittee at its November 2007 meeting. The VSP subcommittee was formed and has met monthly in 2008. This subcommittee is made up of stakeholders from several different backgrounds and organizations including: representatives of the blind community, government agencies, academics and automakers.

Current Status:

The VSP subcommittee created three Task Forces to gather technical information to assist in determining the technical issues:

-- Audience for the Specification (who is the targeted beneficiary)

-- Target sound level and type of sound (what types of sounds are necessary to achieve the desired effect, and what types of sound will achieve the desired effect with the least undesirable and unintended consequences)

-- Driving Conditions for the sound (what combination of vehicle conditions, vehicle status, and ambient conditions are required)

These Task Forces meet independently and report back at the monthly subcommittee meetings.

The VSP subcommittee is first working to accurately define this issue. While working to define the issues, the subcommittee also is working to understand the conditions where these types of incidents are likely to occur (example: alley and street intersections; at stop lights, etc.) As these factors are better understood, the subcommittee will propose and evaluate different methods and/or countermeasures to address the issues.

Even though the subcommittee's initial focus is only on hybrid vehicles, any data collected or generated in understanding the issues could eventually include other vehicle types besides hybrids.

By following a systematic approach to this concern, using the "best available" information, understanding the incident problem by identifying the underlying conditions and/or scenarios, while cooperating with stakeholders from different backgrounds and points of view; we believe this subcommittee is well positioned to address the technical concerns quickly -- as long as data can support the issue(s) and the most promising subset of countermeasures can be identified.

We recognize that any output from this subcommittee must both address the issues, and minimize the creation of new concerns, unintended consequences, or burden on others.

The VSP subcommittee plans to issue a technical report or recommended practice by the end of 2008 based on its analysis of pedestrian safety issues related to the quiet operation of hybrid vehicles and its identification and evaluation of potential countermeasures to address these issues. By involving a diverse mix of experts and stakeholders and gathering available data or researching new areas as needed, this group is addressing the pedestrian safety concerns associated with hybrid vehicles in a technically sound and responsible manner.

[Source: NFB / Street Insider]

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